There was a time not so long ago when film and television were separate industries. Movies were viewed as a higher form of art, with stars of the big screen rarely, if ever, popping up on the small screen, with television stars sticking to it or pushing their entire careers to pivot to the artfully superior cinema. Decades ago, once an actor went from television to film – like Tom Hanks, Woody Harrellson, George Clooney, or Bruce Willis – they never went back to the perceived lower-level form of visual art. A more recent example of the pivot is Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt, and it’s turned out so well for him!
Television got so good during its Golden Age of the late 90s and 2000s that movie stars, filmmakers, and screenwriters caught up to it. Suddenly, television became good enough for them with the arrival of shows like The Sopranos and Mad Men. As a result, movie stars started working in television throughout the 2010s. Matthew McConaughey, fresh off winning an Oscar, co-led the first season of True Detective with Woody Harrellson. In 2017, Big Little Lies, a show that almost exclusively starred movie stars with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern swept (in some categories, deservedly) awards season and became so successful that Oscar-winner Meryl Streep joined its second season. Since, it feels like Witherspoon and Kidman, in particular, do nothing but television, leaving a gap in film and ensuring that no one else slightly less famous gets attention for their work.
Now, although the definition of movie stars has changed significantly to the point they barely even exist anymore, there are more movie stars on television than there are in the movies. The saturation of movie stars on television has made it close to impossible for television actors who are not on Succession or The White Lotus to secure nominations for their work (this is not a jab at anyone from Succession, every single one of them deserves to be nominated and Alan Ruck is owed an extremely public apology from the Television Academy). The 2022 Emmy nominees – specifically in the best actress category – prove this is a problem in that it has bothered me so much that I accidentally start screaming when I’m talking about it to people who do not care. Hopefully writing this all out will help me heal.
If a movie star, or, more accurately, an actor who is known for starring in movies appears on a television series, they are almost guaranteed an Emmy nomination no matter how good or bad the performance or the show was. Michael Keaton, who was nominated and is likely to win for his performance on Dopesick, which was not bad, but not groundbreaking, either. Dopesick was fine, but it would likely not have been nominated this year (especially in the best actor in a limited series category) if the lead was not Michael Keaton.
Wannabe television star Witherspoon received an alarming Emmy nomination for best actress in a drama series for her role on season two of The Morning Show over not only many actresses who delivered better performances this past year, but over her superior co-star and Friends alum Jennifer Aniston, who became a movie star in her own right but not in the same way as Witherspoon. The starlets increase the competition amongst actors doing the actual best work, such as Better Call Saul’s Rhea Seehorn. Despite playing the co-lead on the AMC drama for six seasons, Seehorn received her first nomination this year in the supporting actress drama category because, in the lead category, she never would have been nominated over all that star power she has always been better than but is up against.
While it’s cute and nice and refreshing that people who do movies have gained respect for television over the years, it has possibly gone too far. It would be better for everyone (me) if movie stars did what they expected of television stars for decades: stay in your lane and let the television actors do the television acting, except of course, for the entire, perfect cast of The Staircase and the world’s most talented man Jon Bernthal, who can do whatever the hell he wants.